Seph Lawless has made a name for himself taking eerie photos of places that humans have left behind.
His subjects have included deserted theme parks, abandoned malls and towns so toxic they can no longer support human settlement.
But Lawless has never seen a place like Beachwood Estates, an evacuated neighbourhood in High River, Alta. that is set to return to its natural state as a floodplain, he told Global News on Friday.
Beachwood is a small neighbourhood of 32 homes that’s located on High River’s west side.
Registered as a subdivision in 1990, most of the neighbourhood’s homes were built between 1990 and 2002, with values once assessed as high as $1 million, The Calgary Herald reported.
Then a devastating flood washed across the southern part of the province — including High River — in 2013, forcing as many as 120,000 Albertans to leave their homes.
The provincial government established the Floodway Relocation Program, an initiative through which the province bought 94 properties that were located in floodways in an effort to “reduce the potential financial impact of future flood events.”
Beachwood was one of two areas in High River where the government bought up homes so that the neighbourhood could be returned to its “natural state,” town spokesman Kevin Tetzlaff told Global News.
Homes there were subsequently put up for auction, with the condition that buyers had to move them elsewhere. And properties sold for as little as $30,050.
READ MORE: By the numbers: 2013 Alberta floods
Lawless learned about Beachwood Estates while attending a conference in Banff, Alta. in early April.
He subsequently visited and, in a YouTube video, called the area the “creepiest neighbourhood in the world.” Lawless compared it to a scene out of the zombie TV show The Walking Dead.
“I felt as though I was trespassing on someone’s property,” he told Global News.
“The windows were boarded up from the inside so a lot of them had glass. Even if you were to walk by you would think that maybe someone’s there.”
The photos have drawn an array of reactions — and some High River residents weren’t happy to see their community compared to The Walking Dead.
Ryan White was one of them. White had lost a tattoo business in the 2013 flood, but ended up back on his feet with the help of local residents.
“I just don’t think people take into consideration the actual PTSD it caused for the whole community,” White said of the flood.
“I myself was diagnosed with PTSD, so you know, even for me, it’s a touchy subject.”
Stephanie Bakaluk, who has lived in High River all her life, also objected to how the town was portrayed.
She took particular exception with photos that showed a teddy bear in a driveway and a hat on a porch, which looked staged to her.
“We live in an area of chinooks,” she said of the teddy bear. “There’s no way it would be lying there that long.”
For his part, Lawless denied that he staged anything.
“There would be no reason to believe that teddy bear was there for months before but several people seen it throughout the neighbourhood well before I got there and most recently it was sitting on the steps,” he said.
Some local residents also wondered how Lawless gained entrance to some homes that he photographed.
The photographer said he was invited, and that he “never broke and entered.”
Plenty of action has been taken to guard against future floods in Alberta since 2013.
In High River alone, a series of dikes have been built along the Highwood River, and the main road leading into Beachwood has been “walled off and incorporated into the diking and pathway system,” Tetzlaff said.
Returning Beachwood to a natural state was a “necessary decision to better protect the entire town from future floods,” he added.
But for Lawless, building a neighbourhood in a floodplain is a “testament of how mankind is now.”
“We just ignore nature,” he said.
“We don’t expect it, we just think we can do whatever we want.”